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Good Life, The (1975-77)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Good Life, The (1975-77)
BBC1, 4/4/1975-22/5/1977
28 x 30 minute episodes in 4 series, plus 2 specials (colour)
DirectorJohn Howard Davies
ProducerJohn Howard Davies
ScriptJohn Esmonde
ScriptBob Larbey

Cast: Richard Briers (Tom Good); Felicity Kendal (Barbara Good); Paul Eddington (Jerry Leadbeatter); Penelope Keith (Margo Leadbeatter)

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Suburbanites Tom and Barbara Good decide to leave the fast lane and become self-sufficient in leafy Surbiton.

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As the 1960s turned into the '70s, a generation of young people was rejecting the urban rat race in favour of a simpler life. It was a time when groups of young people abandoned the cities to 'get their heads together in the country', experimenting with communal living, independent farming and self-sufficiency. The same period saw the first flowering of the green movement.

This trend was the inspiration for The Good Life (BBC, 1975-77), one of the most successful sitcoms of the genre's 'golden age'. Created by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey, whose previous credits included Please, Sir! (ITV, 1968-72), the show followed the exploits of two unlikely social revolutionaries, Tom and Barbara Good, who reject their comfortable middle-class lifestyles and Tom's advertising career, turn over their typical suburban garden to vegetables, chickens and a goat, and strive for a self-sufficient life. Tom and Barbara's decision astonishes and alarms their conservative Surbiton neighbours, particularly Margo and Jerry Leadbetter, who share their garden fence.

The show was a gentle social satire of the suburban middle-class, with most of the jokes being at the expense of the Leadbetters, particularly Margo, who became an icon of uptight suburban prissiness. Obsessed by her social status and horrified by the mud and dirt on the other side of the fence, Margo is, underneath, a well-meaning and tolerant woman who simply fails to understand her friends' chosen lives.

The Good Life's enormous popularity owes much to the easy chemistry between the four principle players. As the enthusiastic (if not always competent) Tom, Richard Briers was witty and charming, with a winning, childlike good humour, while Felicity Kendal's lively, sexy Barbara won her the adoration of millions of British men. Penelope Keith never had a better role than the glorious Margo, while for Paul Eddington, the hectored Jerry was a staging post on a comedy path which would lead to his career-making role in Yes, Minister (BBC, 1980-82) and Yes, Prime Minister (1986-87).

Perhaps the show's greatest achievement was to win a loyal following among the very middle-class types it ridiculed week after week.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Office politics (3:36)
2. The Eureka moment (4:10)
3. Celebration (1:49)
Complete episode: 'Plough Your Own Furrow' (27:38)
Keeping Up Appearances (1990-95)
Keith, Penelope (1940-)
Terry and June (1979-87)
Briers, Richard (1934-2013)
Davies, John Howard (1939-2011)
Eddington, Paul (1927-1995)
Esmonde, John (1937-2008) and Larbey, Bob (1934-)
Kendal, Felicity (1946-)
Larbey, Bob (1934-) and Esmonde, John (1937-2008)
The Sitcom Family